North Carolina Dram Shop Verdict Highlights Duty of Bars & Restaurants Serving Alcohol

A North Carolina couple has received $1.7 million verdict against a restaurant after a drunk driving accident. According to the article in USA Today the restaurant was ordered to pay the couple after a drunk driving accident caused serious injuries including the loss of the couple’s unborn child.

Although it was a drunk driver who was ultimately the cause of the crash, the North Carolina restaurant was held liable for damages under “dram shop laws.” Dram shop laws provide important protections to the public and our personal injury attorneys in Asheville want to remind bar and restaurant owners of the important implications and the responsibility owed by such establishments. 1251469_wine.jpg

What are Dram Shop Laws?
Dram shop laws are laws that make restaurants, bars or other social hosts responsible for the consequences if they serve alcohol to an intoxicated person. Dram shop laws exist in some form in a majority of states in the U.S., although they vary from location to location as far as the extent of responsibility that they impose on restaurant and bar owners. “Dram” is an old-world term for a unit of liquor, such as a shot.

In North Carolina, there are several different laws related to bars and restaurants serving alcohol. For example:

  • § 18B‑305 states that it is unlawful to knowingly sell to a person who is intoxicated.
  • § 18B‑121 makes it unlawful to sell or provide alcohol to someone who is under-aged. A claim for relief is created if the bar or restaurant sold or provided alcohol to an under-aged person who then causes an injury while driving drunk.

If a bartender or server does provide alcohol to an intoxicated or under-aged person in violation of the law, then this can give rise to civil liability. Essentially, this means that the bar or restaurant is viewed as having broken a safety law, and thus as having been negligent and complicit in the harm that was caused by the drunk driver. Injured victims can thus sue the bar or restaurant for damages.

The Recent North Carolina Dram Shop Verdict
While dram shop laws impose responsibility on the bar and restaurant owners, questions often arise as to exactly when social establishments should be held responsible for the actions of their patrons. The recent North Carolina case in which the restaurant was ordered to pay $1.7 million after a drunk driving accident shows that juries in North Carolina believe that servers have a broad responsibility to help prevent drunk driving.

The key question that servers will have to answer before providing someone with a drink is whether there is reason to believe that the person is intoxicated, regardless of what his BAC might be or how many drinks he has had prior. If a server fails to make this evaluation and serves alcohol to someone who is intoxicated and who subsequently causes harm, the consequences can be quite serious.

Stores and restaurants, therefore, need to err on the side of caution and have strict rules in place to help prevent patrons from getting drunk and then driving home from the establishment. Those who are victimized by a drunk driving accident also need to understand that these dram shop laws give them the right to take action against a defendant who may be better equipped than a drunk driver to pay a large claim.

If you suffer injury in a drunk driving accident, contact Grimes Teich Anderson LLP. Call 1.800.533.6845. *No Attorney Fees Until You’ve Been Paid.

*Fees are a percentage of the recovery – Cases costs are additional.

Additional Resources:
Fall Accidents, Premises Liability & Risks Among Older Adults, By Grimes Teich Anderson, LLP, Nov 1, 2012.

Horrific N.C. crash puts spotlight on dram shop laws, USA Today, November 24, 2012.

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